Time to wake up ... and smell the snowy cranberry latte
And the common remark I receive when meeting those within the sports fraternity these days is ... the "boy is clueless".
I hope this article will not be the "garbage that sets the tone for the remaining sports media lowlifes to emulate in their so-called news", as recently remarked by a supposed educated man within the industry.
1. The minister has a major "perception" problem. Period. Perception is defined as "a belief or opinion, often held by many people and based on how things seem". He is surrounded by those with very little insights about the fraternity, thus making things worse for him. It could, however, work to his benefit as he will not have a biased view when tackling issues.
2. The minister and his deputy have repeatedly acknowledged they are not well-versed with sports. They can choose to rely on the several experienced hands within the ministry - namely secretary general Datuk Lokman Hakim Ali and National Sports Council (NSC) director general Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail. But be reminded that these individuals are having a tough time fighting fires within.
3. The minister and his deputy have requested for more time to understand the complexity of the sports fraternity - which they will readily admit is more brutal and uglier than politics. But here's the thing - they are on the tax-payers' payroll so there's no room for the "trial and error" or "learning on the job" approach.
4. Certain quarters have taken pot shots at the minister's age. Age should not be an issue. One should be judged based on his or her management skills and experience in handling issues and challenges (and being an inspiring force) as these are the key ingredients in running an organisation. Such traits remain to be seen at this point in time. Some old guards have failed to reinvent themselves as they continue to harp about the "good old days". But knowledgeable elders should be part of the system - as mentors. Their insights are valuable.
5. Certain quarters are comparing the minister to his predecessor. This coming from those who once whispered "it's either KJ's way or the highway".
6. The minister has received plenty of flak regarding his obsession with eSports. eSports is big business. And as I said during a recent Let's Talk programme on Astro Awani, the ministry should massage the idea to ensure the traditionalists understand what the minister's plans are for eSports. The minister is now being accused of promoting couch potatoes. To say eSports can create plenty of new job opportunities may not hold water as the sports industry, generally, can promise the same as well. By the way, what is the plan for eSports - to develop players or developers? This may see the involvement of other ministries or government agencies and as such should be left as a private initiative (more on that later).
7. The focus should be on sports industry - an initiative that was mooted during the tail end of Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek's tenure. There is no valuation of our sports industry as it can contribute to the nation's coffers and create new job opportunities. If focus was on sports industry, national sports associations can become the new disrupters where brands can speak directly to the associations instead of going through agencies - provided associations know what their target market is and the valuation of their product / tournaments. This can be initiated by the associations without the need of the ministry to set the tone.
8. The ministry can then assist by convincing the Finance Ministry to consider giving big tax rebates and ensure there is strict enforcement so that such rebates are not abused into a money laundering vehicle. Current rebates are not attractive enough for companies to sponsor sports or athletes that do not enjoy massive coverage. This will create a win-win situation as companies will commit X amount annually while the government can redirect finances. This will create a self sustaining industry, and not one that is heavily reliant on government funds (or funds from sin taxes - via the National Sports Council: read more here).
8. As I also said on Let's Talk, why should eSports get a special RM10 million allocation? The government can assist industry players through tax rebates or other form of initiatives (by working with other relevant ministries and agencies) to ensure the industry gains proper traction to see if it is worth investing. For the record, none of the big game developers are based in Malaysia due to the lack of buying power and rampant piracy (due to poor enforcement).
9. Why the need to build a venue for eSports when industry players can be encouraged to create their own eSports hub which will promise business returns and traffic to their entities? This will ensure continuity once the minister leaves office. Also, if eSports gets a special allocation of RM10 million, what about other sports who believe they deserve the same special attention, if not more?
10. Bowling somewhat suffered the same perception issue decades ago as it was once described as a "parlour game". Datuk Dr PS Nathan turned it into a sport acceptable by all in Malaysia and the image of bowling (and bowling alleys) changed. Perhaps a chat with Dr Nathan is required.
11. It is important that the minister visit the respective sports associations. While some sports officials have approached the minister, but visiting sports association is good PR. This will ensure decisions made after this will take into account of the association's predicament. Many are still unhappy over the manner in which drastic actions were taken against those within the National Sports Institute - despite the minister not visiting the institute or its personnel.
12. As for the National Sports Institute, efforts should be made for it to self sustain. Its greatest assets are its people and the right thing to do is to monetise their expertise. Those who suffer from sports injury will have an alternative centre to go to. This is in addition to NSI's contribution to the well being of our national athletes. There have been plans of turning NSI into a learning centre (and even sports university) but let's start with the basics first. NSI is in dire need of a good administrator, a leader.
13. Sports is a unifying factor - and if used wisely, can be a great tool to diffuse tension as seen today. Sadly, sports is only a priority to politicians just before the general elections. This is evident in the past where athletes become 'mini ambassadors' for certain political parties while pledges to build sports infrastructure, for the sole reason of winning votes, were made.
14. The minister and deputy minister would have learnt by now that in sports:
a. everyone has an opinion.
b. everyone wants their opinion to be taken seriously.
c. athletes do not see eye to eye with officials (and/or associations).
d. associations only want money from government and have plenty of infighting.
e. government officials are accused of being Little Napoleons (which is true in most cases).
15. Sports associations play a crucial role in not just developing elite athletes but promoting sports at the grassroots. This is to ensure we create a healthy sporting culture, increase productivity and see a reduction in health related problems. Here's where the ministry needs to drill the message.
16. His priority should not just be about the National Service programme.
17. Four months ago the minister revealed a committee will be set up to investigate the death of a participant of the Port Dickson International Triathlon. What are the findings of the committee?
18. Also, when will the accounts and post-Games summary for the Kuala Lumpur 2017 SEA Games be released? It has been more than a year since the regional Games ended. Are the equipment from the Games still kept at a store in Balakong?
19. Perhaps a lot is being done behind the scenes and perhaps the minister should start disseminating information (and not be contended by just sending voice notes through a media WhatsApp chat group).
20. Real efforts must be made to see the Youth and Sports and Education Ministries work hand in hand to develop sports at the grassroots.
21. Similar efforts must be adopted for other youth-related programmes with other ministries and government agencies. Rope in the private sector. Give stakeholders a sense of entitlement.
22. Moving forward, the minister needs to set the "hala tuju" (direction) and make it public. He must also assure the masses how the ministry's initiatives will benefit Malaysians of all walks, and not just the elite few.
23. This is not an attack on the minister, his team nor the ministry but a reflection of the sentiments of the stakeholders about an "uninspiring team".
Ministers come and go. As Led Zeppelin (the famous English rock band formed in the late 60s) sang: "The song remains the same".